September 30th, 2010
01:12 PM ET

'100 percent' chance for life on newly found planet?

An artist rendering shows the four inner planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star.

Gliese 581g may be the new Earth.

A team of astronomers from the University of California and the Carnegie Institute of Washington say they've found a planet like ours, 20 light years (120 trillion miles) from Earth, where the basic conditions for life are good.

"The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent," Steven Vogt, a UC professor of astronomy and astrophysics says. "I have almost no doubt about it."

The planet is three times the size of Earth, but the gravity is similar.

Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, planetarium astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, says the discovery is a huge deal.

"It could have liquid water on the surface," she said. "That's the first step to find life."

The Gliese 581 system's orbit compared to our own solar system. The planet labeled G is the one scientists believe could very likely support life.

There are hundreds of known extrasolar planets that have been discovered in the Milky Way, but this is the first that could support life.

Earthlings won't be traveling to Gliese 581g any time soon unfortunately. Scientists say a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light would take 20 years to make this journey.

But if we did - we'd find some other things familiar. The atmosphere and gravity are similar to Earth, and if you're from the polar regions, you'd definitely feel right at home. Scientists say the highest average temperature is about -12 degrees Celcius (10 Fahrenheit), but they point out that the planet doesn't have a night and day - one side continually faces the star and the other side faces the darkness of space. This means one side is blazing hot and the other freezing cold.

Gliese orbits a red dwarf star called Gliese 581. Cunningham says "it's a Goldilocks planet."

"It's not too hot, it's not too cold, it's just right" for water to form, Cunningham said.

The area is called the "Goldilocks zone."

Other planets near Gliese 581g have been discovered, but they are not habitable and are mainly comprised of gas. Gliese 581g, however, is a rocky planet.

It was discovered using the Keck telescope in Hawaii which has been observing the star Gliese 581 for 11 years.

"Keck's long-term observations of the wobble of nearby stars enabled the detection of this multi-planetary system," said Mario R. Perez, Keck program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Astronomers are excited this new planet was discovered so fast and relatively close by.

"I'm surprised we found one so fast," Cunningham said. "The implication is either we were very lucky or these planets could be relatively common."

Gliese 581g is in the constellation of Libra. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit our star, the sun, Gliese 581g orbits its star in 37 days.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,327 Responses)
  1. RaveDave

    "Scientists say a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light would take 20 years to make this journey."

    20 years for who? For the people who stay on Earth it would be 20 years, but for the people making the journey it could be a couple of weeks. t1 = t2 √ (1 – v2/c2)

    September 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Good point. The fast we go, the shorter the relative time of the trip.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich Stevens

      Right, it would take 18 days @ Warp Factor 6.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      To an outside observer, yes. Star Trek, for obvious reasons, never dealt with time dilation, somehow people traveling at warp speed always experienced the same relative time as people who weren't, to the extent that the crew could have a face to face live conversation with somebody on a planet a very long way away.

      But *within the laws of physics*, the faster you go as you approach c, the faster time passes for you.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      Good call RaveDave! Looks like someone knows what they are talking about!

      September 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Luke

    Send them a message, it'll only take 20 years to get there.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      We've been sending out radio signals long enough that if they can listen, they'll know about us already.

      Incidentally there'd be about a 40 years turnaround time for messages between here and there. So a message may already be on the way... back to us.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Danny Lesandrini

    Don't get me started. It would be laughable if it wasn't so stupid … and calculated. "100 percent chance for life on newly found planet"? Who came up with that idea … Richard Dawkins? Probably, since he believes life was seeded on Earth by aliens and he's the most vocal player on the Evolution team.

    He believes that, by the way, because the odds of even the simplest protein forming in any scenario is so mind-boggling that even scientists have given up on life starting in an organic soup idea. Another scientist, Michael Behe puts the nails in the coffin with his books, Darwin's Black Box and The Edge of Evolution. He agrees that natural selection, common origin and genetic mutations exist and are at work, but not capable of producing life.

    And don't throw the "religion" card at me. I didn't mention creation and I needn't. It's simple science. Either it works or it doesn't ... and life arising out of water simply doesn't.

    Like I said … don't get me started.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luke


      September 30, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      you are a stupid person. please cut off you genitals.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      When you say evolution doesn't work, you're saying creation works.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • shecky

      lol @ get you started. You on a roll already. I'm more minded to ask you to stop before you hurt yourself.

      September 30, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      Behe... hmmm, you mean...
      "lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology."
      Kitsmiller v Dover

      September 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Danny Lesandrini

      To Nonimus ... perhaps, but that doesn't change the facts. If that logic were true, then the fact that Dakwins believes in aliens makes anything he says bogus. Well, unless you believe in aliens, I guess. Or astrology.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nonimus

      There is nothing that I'm aware of in science that contradicts the possibility of alien, extraterrestrial, life. Astrology, on the other hand, has ample evidence against it being even remotely true.

      Not to mention that I don't think Dawkins ever said that he believes in aliens. If your are referring to that propaganda piece, "Expelled", he was presenting a hypothetical scenario, not his beliefs.

      September 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bud

    Just because we found it doesn't equate to "we own it." Someone else might have other ideas, and a bigger club!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wha

      Damn... & I just bought a couple hundred acres there from this guy I know...

      September 30, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeman

      since we haven't discovered 'anyone else' as of yet, its pretty much ours until we do (if we every find ourselves capable of claming it, that is.)

      September 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Malcolm Kass

    Methinks this Steven Vogt guy is going a bit overboard. I have no problem in life exists out there or not, but all we know is that a planet exists in a zone where liquid water can exist. We have no evidence that it even has an atmosphere, and even if it does, it certainly could be like Venus', totally inhospitable to life. And no offense to the guy, but this phrase "I have almost no doubt about it.". Well, he should because the knowledge of organic chemistry that is needed to have an educated opinion on this are well outside of his field. He is an expert on finding planets, stars, etc, thats it.

    Now I know that lately academics are becoming somewhat like PT Barnum to try to drive research $$$, and that is fine, but Dr. Cunningham's comment seems to be much more sane than Vogt's.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lunytune

    I hope there are Klingons...I've really missed Worf

    September 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mr. RR

    Well that is Very interesting, but if we decide to go let make sure and get our VISAS or will be illegal Aliens!! Or we can just do it the old fashion way and shoot are way into ownership.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • freeman

      Did anyone say 'intelligent life'? No, they didn't.
      Nobody to shoot.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Observer

    100% chance how can they be so sure. Nobody is making trip there to verify this 100% chance. Maximum temperature -12 C. No day or night, one side is hot and the other is cold. Three times the size of earth but similar gravity, I wounder how rocky is this planet. Does not sound like a live planet for me.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Maciej Urbanowicz

    This discover is one of the most important, after the Copernicus theory. If we had some kind of "light engine", we would have a chance to travel there during our life!
    For me it is very important news. I work in a space industry and my hobby is look for the another real world.


    September 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. deepj

    There are other conditions that are required to sustain life as know it. There is no day or night, seasons, magnetic fields etc

    September 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JJstuart1

    Everyone forgets about time dilation at near relativistic speeds. For those on board the ship only 3.5 years have elapsed.
    Of course the loved ones left behind have aged forty years. I hope mankind does someday achieve ability to travel at almost the speed of light and maybe this finding will be the motivation for us to do that.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Sean

    "Let us first check with the NATIVES on this planet and see if they want us to visit/come and stay." - then again, it could be the other way around.. Perhaps we will be the one's to be conquered, not us conquering them

    September 30, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Itsaplan

    Here's the plan – Send the Democrats!!!!

    September 30, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Send the criminals, rednecks, and Republicans. Then in a few hundred years, their descendants can be the Terrans in Starcraft.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sweeney Rod

      Send the Republicans, Then they'll have a whole new world to f*** over, not just one measley country.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Itsaplan

      All jokes aside, it's not all one parties fault the US is the way it is. It's everyones. We all change and with each new generation there is change some good and some not so good.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Harold

    i wish i could live long enough to see everything happen...

    September 30, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Me too, SSgt.

      September 30, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. John

    It's entirely likely that the other intelligent races in the galaxy are just as warlike as we are.

    I strongly suspect our first encounter with extraterrestrial life will come when we get sucked into a conflict between two major factions up there.

    When we look for signs of life in the galaxy, keep in mind that each further light year out we look, the things we see are a year further back in the past. When we look at the Gliese 581 system, we look 20 years in the past. The galactic center, when we look at it, is 25,000 years in the past.

    What this means is that there can be advanced alien civilizations out there right now, and we just haven't seen them yet because the light hasn't gotten here yet. Additionally if somebody develops FTL travel, we could see them here at Earth before we see any evidence of them in the sky.

    What this also means is that the longer we listen, the more likely we are to hear.

    September 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
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